Tag Archives: Criticism

Lessons from Lucy Grealy.

19 Nov

Another Instagram photo. 🙂

“I viewed other people both critically and sympathetically. Why couldn’t they just stop complaining so much, just let go and see how good they actually had it? Everyone seemed to be waiting for something to happen that would allow them to move forward, waiting for some shadowy future moment to begin their lives in earnest. Everybody, from my mother to the characters I read about in books (who were as actual and important as real people to me), was always looking at someone else’s life and envying it, wishing to occupy it. I wanted them to stop, to see how much they had already, how they had their health and their strength. I imagined how my life would be if I had half their fortune. Then I would catch myself, guilty of the exact thing I was accusing others of. As clear-handed as I was, sometimes I felt that the only reason for this clarity was to see how hypocritically I lived my own life.”-from Autobiography of a Face by Lucy Grealy

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How Do You Deal With Criticism, Writer’s Block And Burnout?

2 May

This past Friday, I met up with one of my writing mentors, Mike, that I hadn’t seen in over 2 years. It was great to see him, and we had a great hour and a half conversation about writing, life, struggles, etc. Since Mike is one of those people who is a writer himself and will tell me the honest truth, sometimes I’m a bit hesitant to share what I’ve written with him.

I have yet to share any part of my book with him because I feel like I’m still in the early stage of writing my memoir. I only started writing at the end of January, and I’ve only written about 12 pages (which I’m not exactly proud of. However, I was dealing with schoolwork up until a little less than a week ago, so what can you do?). Though I’ve only written 12 pages, at this point, I’m still very close to those 12 pages of my life, my heart, and ultimately, my soul. Those 12 pages are memories that I’ve pulled directly from my heart and written down. They aren’t changed in any way. They are as close to the actual truth that I have been able to get (since I’ve realized that I’ve blocked out a good chunk of memories due to their degree of pain). Deep down, I’m not ready to share anything yet. I still feel so emotionally close to what I’ve written so far. I mean, it’s my life. It’s what I felt, not just physically, but emotionally too. How can I turn it over to someone to critique just yet? I understand that dealing with criticism is a huge part of being a writer. I also understand that I’m going to get good and bad criticism, and it’s important to focus on the good criticism since that is the advice that will propel me forward. However, I just feel like it’s too soon. Does that make sense?

Now that I’m done with academics until the fall semester (or until I study abroad in Ireland in June), I have the time to sit down with my memoir and try to sort through as many memories as I can that I have yet to write down. However, at this point, I’m just not sure where to go. I sit down to write, and nothing comes out. I think it’s primarily because I’m not in the right mindset for the memories to surface. The things that I want to share aren’t particularly happy, so sitting down to write when I’m in a relatively cheerful mood doesn’t get me anywhere. Though I understand that the writing process isn’t something that occurs overnight, it’s hard to wait when I just want to finally get all the painful memories out. They’ve been buried inside for so long. We all have to face our demons eventually. I may as well start now.

When I talked with Mike on Friday, he made the comment that my memoir is something that I shouldn’t force, and since it is such a delicate topic for me, it’s something that I should try to not get too frustrated over. However, since the process of writing is frustrating anyway, some frustration is normal. I think the best advice Mike gave me was to start another writing project (as well as working on my memoir). He pointed out that since my memoir is such an emotionally heavy project, it’d be good to work on something light on the side. Whether it’s poetry or a short story, working on another project is good when I’m stuck on my memoir. Mike said “Even if you write a short story about bunnies, you’re writing. That’s all that matters.” Mike has made a point to tell me that writing every day is an important part of writing. Even though I’ve seen the benefits of that (through this blog, mainly), I guess I didn’t consider starting another writing project.

I didn’t consider starting to write something other than my memoir because my memoir was taking up so much of my emotional energy. However, now that I take a second look at it, I guess that’s why people take on multiple writing projects….to give their mind a break from focusing on the same writing project day in and day out. I know that since I’ve started my memoir, there have been days that I just don’t feel like working on it. However, in the back of my mind, I know that I’ve got to work on something if I want my writing spark to stay alive. There have been previous times in my life when I’ve taken breaks from writing, but not just a break from a particular writing project, but a break from writing altogether. Even though in those instances I’ve eventually returned to writing, the breaks from writing have made it even harder to get back into the swing of things.

So, moral of the story: Write every day (no matter what), don’t let a certain writing project burn you out (start something else to keep your writing juices flowing, while also allowing yourself to have a break from the first writing project), and don’t give up (I know writing is frustrating, but for the few of us who love it, writing is our passion, our love, and the only way we can accurately portray ourselves).

Are you ever hesitant to share something you’ve written because you’re too emotionally close to it? How do you deal with criticism? Would you rather focus on one writing project at a time or split your time between two different writing projects and why? I’d love feedback from you fellow writers! 

Thank All Of Your Writing Mentors.

14 Mar

After yesterday’s blog post Does Music Help Your Writing generated so much feedback, I thought I’d stick with the topic of writing for today’s post as well. However, I don’t want to focus on just writing, but mainly how certain people have impacted your writing…and the different ways that they have helped you broaden your writing experience. I’ll start with some of the writing mentors I’ve had over the years.

  1. My seventh grade English teacher, Mrs. Trish: Though I enjoyed writing before I took Mrs. Trish’s English class, the belief in my ability grew when I entered her classroom. Not only did she encourage me to keep on writing, she helped me realize that I could use writing as an outlet, as a way to escape when reality became too painful. She was also the first person (other than my parents) who told me that I had “a gift.” Hearing that from someone other than my parents was a huge turning point. I remember when I let Mrs. Trish read the first article that I ever got published (Writing To Survive). She cried, telling me how proud she was of me and how she knew that one day I’d truly impact the world with my writing. I didn’t remember some of the great advice she gave me until reflecting on what I gained from her in terms of my writing, but I know that she was the one who first really supported me (besides my parents) in my love of writing. To this day, we still keep up, but not as much as I’d like since college keeps me busy.
  2. A previous co-worker, Mike: In my junior year at Salem, I interned at the Columbia Star (and wrote the article “Writing To Survive,” mentioned above). One of my co-workers there, Mike, had a huge impact on me and my writing. I interned at The Star for three weeks, and while I was there, Mike was constantly picking at me. Not in a mean way, but in a way that solidified our mentor-mentee relationship. When my internship was over, Mike wrote me a letter (that is still one of the most honest portrayals of what it means to be a writer I’ve ever read) and gave me Stephen King’s book, On Writing (which has been extremely helpful through the process of writing my book). I met Mike back in 2009, and I’m happy to say that we keep up a regular email correspondence, which I’m grateful for. He is one of those writers who I know will give me completely honest feedback on my writing. He knows what I’ve been through, and so he also knows that I can take the criticism, especially since he also points out that the criticisms he gives me come from his heart since he wants to see me grow as a writer and a person.
  3. My AP English teacher, Dr. Cahill: Between my internship with The Star and the start of my freshman year at Wofford College, I took a hiatus from writing. However, that doesn’t mean that I didn’t have people supporting my writing. Dr. Cahill is one of the teachers that I’ll never forget. She loves what she teaches, and she makes that known to her students. Though I didn’t do much personal writing during my senior year (since I had so many other responsibilities like college applications and being the editor-in-chief of my school paper), I still had support. For every literary analysis that I wrote in AP English, I went to see Dr. Cahill in order to get her feedback before turning in my final draft. Though she knew that I was an anxious student, she always made a point to try to lift me up. I remember one day when I was in her office she said: “Amelia, you’ve got to believe in yourself a little more. You’re a great writer. Can’t you see that?” It was in that moment that I realized how hard I was being on myself as a writer. To this day, I’m still hard on myself in terms of my writing, and I think it’s something that all artists face when trying to express themselves. However, having Dr. Cahill point it out to me was an important realization in terms of growing as a writer.
  4. My Freshman English teacher, Dr. Cox: Beginning in August of 2010 (my freshman year at Wofford College), Dr. Cox had a huge impact on me. She’s a writer herself, and one of the truest writing professors that I’ve known. I remember one specific assignment we were given during the fall semester of 2010. The assignment was to write a short story in which we held a specific belief and then over time our position/opinion changed regarding this particular belief. I put a personal spin on my story. I wrote about how as a kid I thought that I only had friends because I thought they pitied me. This opinion changed when, in seventh grade, I befriended my first true friend, Lauren. She showed me what it meant to be a true friend, and she helped me realize that I shouldn’t automatically jump to the assumption of pity when it comes to friends. Anyway, Dr. Cox helped me so much with this story. After a short conversation with her after class, I realized that she knew me better than I knew myself. I remember the end of that conversation because Dr. Cox said: “Amelia, writing isn’t true unless it costs you something,” and I’m pretty sure I’ll never forget that. In my case, this meant showing my vulnerability to Dr. Cox as well as my English class, and I was scared. However, I got positive reactions from my classmates, and on future writing assignments I noticed that my classmates were sharing stories that were more personal for them. One day, I came out of class smiling because after having numerous classmates share personal stories, Dr. Cox pulled me aside and said: “It’s because of you, Amelia. You broke down the wall of fear that people had built around their personal experiences and made it known that it was okay to share them.” That is something that will always stick with me because it’s a reminder that my words have the power to impact others around me.

I have no idea where I’d be without these 4 people. Well, yes, I do. My writing wouldn’t be as developed as it is at this point. I wouldn’t have grown so much over the last few years. Thankfully, I still correspond with all 4 of my writing mentors, and every day I am happy to have their support and love. As writers, we all need guidance, whether we care to admit it or not. As it turns out, the people who guide us may be some of the most influential people in our lives, because they’ve taught us not only what it means to express ourselves, but how to look within ourselves to find our true inner voice. I know from experience that it can take a while to find your inner voice, but once you’re able to find it, a strong and life-long connection to creativity, and ultimately, to ourselves and those around us, emerges.